Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Riots spread across Britain

London is seeing its third night of rioting tonight, whilst disturbances spread across the country. There are reports of clashes with the police in Birmingham, Manchester, and now Liverpool. It's now clear that even those of us who predicted that these events would spread have underestimated the sheer scale of the feelings that are driving people to the streets in significant numbers.

The riots have forced David Cameron to cut his holiday short, and it is likely that we will soon know how the state decides to respond to these uprisings.

In the meantime, I repeat the point I made after the initial rioting in Tottenham;
A riot is not a tactic, carefully thought out and influenced by political debate, but a phenomenon. No amount of carefully-worded calls for calm or "I understand the anger but..." weasel words will stop a similar situation from arising again. It is an explosion of anger, fear, frustration, helplessness, into destruction. To stand back and argue that it was the wrong approach is to step out-of-touch from events as the unfold in the real world. It happened, and in all likelihood it will happen again.
There's no doubt that a lot of what is happening is at least counter-productive. Against that, stories of anarchists in some areas discouraging looting and putting out fires are welcome. Likewise similar reports of Turkish and Kurdish people in Toxteth assembling to defend the area from looters. But if we're not on the ground to engage in such acts then making moral distinctions is a pointless exercise. A riot is neither right nor wrong. It is simply inevitable when people are so angry, so desperate, so scared and alienated, that the only choices open to them are despondency or violence.

I'm not going to be able to sleep tonight, that much is certain. I'm far too wired. Neither, I suspect, will a lot of other people. There's a sense that we're witnessing something important, though what will happen next is almost impossible to call. Whatever the case, if you're near to the rioting, stay safe.